If you’ve grown up in Cedar Rapids, you know that our city has strong Catholic roots. This is evident by the number of fish fry’s from Ash Wednesday to Easter. There are also the Friday Lent specials at restaurants (the Crunchtown fish nuggets from Black Sheep- YES PLEASE!) and the number of Catholic parishes within an hour drive.
There is another important religious holiday that does not get the same attention, but holds a lot of importance. That holiday is Passover. Passover takes place each spring and signifies when the Jews left Egypt for Israel “the land of milk and honey “. It begins at sundown on the 15th day of Nisan (April). Passover is a seven-day long holiday that includes a special dinner and the telling of the story of Moses and Passover.
If you’re a 90s baby like I am – you probably saw the Rugrats episode about Passover or watched the film – The Prince of Egypt. Both are fairly accurate with some creative liberties to be taken (depending how Jewish you want to get). Both are great options if you want to introduce your kids to the holiday.
My introduction to Judaism started when I met my husband in 2014. He is reform Ashkenazi Jewish. He attended a reform synagogue with his family, had a bar mitzvah and, at the time we started dating, kept kosher for many years. My in-laws are from Israel and speak fluent Hebrew to our daughters.
On the first night of Passover, families hold what is called a “seder.” This is where they read from the Haggadah and EAT. The main purpose of the seder is to read from the Haggadah. The Haggadah is the book that tells the story of Moses leading the Jews from Egypt to the land of milk and honey. My mother-in-law’s traditional Passover meal includes a good brisket, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, potato kugel, charoset and her signature heaping side of Jewish guilt. This includes not adding milk to any of these dishes as part of keeping kosher.
While you read the Haggadah – the six items on the seder plate are described and talked about – each which represent a different part of the story of Passover.
The most well-known part of the seven days of Passover is probably the not eating of leavened bread. The story is that the Jewish people did not have time to let the bread rise before they left Egypt. This is why during Passover they do not consume anything with flour or that has risen. Most families own a set of special Passover dishes, and some even go as far as to burn the items containing flour. This also varies as far as to how Jewish a family wants to get.
If you want to learn more about Judaism in a grown-up way, Oprah did a short series about a Hasidic Jewish community in New York several years ago. You can find this series on YouTube. It addresses different parts of this particular branch of Judaism that one may not think about.
Cedar Rapids is home to one spot where the Jewish can come together and participate in shul (temple). Located on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids, Temple Judah is a small, tight knit community that is welcoming to all. They hold Shabbat services on Friday evenings and the Saturday services are held monthly.
Passover is to Judaism– as Easter is to Catholicism/Christianity.
Both holidays are very significant parts of the religion and celebrated with utmost respect. If you are offered the opportunity to participate in a Passover seder, I encourage you to do it! It is a wonderful experience to see how the religion observes the traditions that have been around for centuries.
Now pass the matzo and pour the Manischewitz! Chag Sameach !
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